By the time Ralph arrived at my health care clinic, his prostate cancer had metastasized to the point where the only “treatment” was to place him into hospice. The 58-year-old construction worker didn’t have health insurance, so he avoided regular check-ups.As a result, his cancer went undetected and now all he can do is pray.
As a Methodist minister and physician, I have witnessed heartbreak in our medical system for the last 20 years.The stories of the uninsured or the underinsured have not changed. If anything, they have only gotten worse.It is heartbreak health care all over our country. And, in some of the poorest cities like Memphis, Tenn. where I live, everyone from the top city officials to small-business owners to corporate executives knows stories like Ralph’s. We see their faces every day. So why is this situation so difficult to address?
To me, health care cuts to the most fundamental issues of our lives – literally whether we live or die and who we include and exclude. These issues are never easy for us to address.
The current discussion surrounding health care reform highlights our most neurotic, selfish tendencies. As Congress debates health care, individuals still wonder about their own access, their own co-pays, and ultimately their own well-being. Lobbyists are debating how much of a financial hit the hospitals, doctors, and drug companies can take. This sounds absurd to the millions without health insurance.
My faith tells me to care for the least of these. In today’s world, I see more than 46 million people without health care coverage, and it breaks my heart. We cannot sit idly by as millions lack basic care. We are destroying lives through over-priced emergency room visits and unfair billing practices. We need to stop the financial bullying of the uninsured and provide access to basic health care for everyone in the United States. This step would immediately create a healthier system and population.
Yet access alone will not address the deeper dysfunctions of the system head-on. We need to change our view of health care. It is not about technology, pills, or money. It is about people. It is about making sure that people stay healthy. We need to reform the reimbursement system to concentrate less on technology and more on actual outcomes. If we are not making people healthier, then we should not receive generous compensation. More testing and more pills are not the answer to good health outcomes. Active living and good diet are crucial. Right now, the health care system is more invested in using the newest technology and prescribing more pills than in addressing the root causes of diseases and conditions. This cycle needs to end.
Such change will be difficult and messy. It is the just course of action, and this road is never easy. I hope that the current reforms will create a new system that cares more about people. Such a system would treat Ralph’s condition early on, emphasizing preventative measures on all counts. It would provide access first and foremost. It would shift the focus to making people healthier in the long run. It would give us healthier people to work in our offices, factories, and restaurants. It would end heartbreak health care in our country once and for all.